The best BLT+C ever ever ever

This summer we spent several Saturday mornings at the Capital City Farmer’s Market in downtown Boise. I love it. (I’ve posted about it before, here).

One of my favorite things about the market is the cheese booth. It’s actually the Ballard family cheese booth and they make all their cheeses here in Idaho. Then they sell them to people like ME who love cheese. Yum.

One day in late July we were at the market and I made my usual beeline for the cheese booth. I had a few samples, swoon, and then I realized the dude behind the booth was grilling cheese. Yes, grilling. No bread. He added some spice and grilled it in a skillet. Then he handed me a piece and I said, “I’ll take it!”

Turns out it’s Halloumi cheese. Halloumi is a Greek cheese with a high melting point so it can actually be grilled, and slightly browned, without melting.

I immediately started thinking – what can I do with this?

I started looking around my kitchen. Okay, I had half of a baguette (because I love a good baguette and try to keep one on hand most of the time) so I immediately thought sandwich. Then I rummaged in the fridge and found bacon, grape tomatoes, and a spring salad mix. And thus the best BLT+C was born.

Toast or grill the buns.
Season the Halloumi to your preference and grill it.
Bacon. Sometimes I bake it. Doesn't matter. Cook it however you normally do.
Grape tomatoes. Any tomatoes will do. This is just what I had on hand. On hand. See? Get it. Ha ha.
Start assembling. Mayo first, then I pulled the arugula out of the spring salad mix, and then I trimmed off all the fat and just use the meaty bacon parts.
Add the sliced up tomato bits.
Fini!

I made 4 of these sandwiches and wrapped them up for a picnic. A few hours later when we pulled them out to eat they were just perfect. Crunchy, salty, cheesy, bacony. So yum. Try it.

-Stef

 

UPDATE:  My husband asked for these again this weekend and I made a couple tweaks that I wanted to share with you. I think this batch was even better than the first!

  • We used ciabatta rolls and I grilled them in about 2 tblsp butter in a big skillet on the stove at medium heat until they were deliciously browned. (Buttered the rolls and the pan).
  • For my Mayo spread I combined Mayo, Sweet Hot Mustard & Habanero Mustard. It was YUM. Mostly mayo and just a dollop or two each of the other depending on how you like it.
  • I grilled the Halloumi in the bacon grease. First I drained almost all the grease out of the pan but then I grilled the cheese on low-medium heat in the same pan. I also sprinkled the cheese with seasoned salt. It was good, but you can omit this step if you want to cut back on the salt.
  •  We used heirloom tomatoe slices fresh out of a friend’s garden.
  • We used a handful of baby arugula that we had bought in a package. We don’t eat a ton of arugula, but we can share it with our tortoise, Bob. (The arugula, not the sandwich).

End result was deliciousness. The tomato and mayo spread just oozed up into the airy ciabatta bun making the sandwich messy and good. The Halloumi was squeaky and tasty. Just a perfect sandwich. My husband told me no less than 5 TIMES how much he enjoyed it.

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What kind of week has it been?

Well, my friends, it has been quite a WEEK. I tried to slack-off, I really did. Despite my best efforts I actually earned my pay this week. In fact, I may have kicked some well-needed booty too. (I’m being cheeky – just go with it).

No, but really, work is killing me. Like, to death. I have worked 10-12 hour days entirely too much this week. Early meetings with the Brits and late evenings playing catch up. I don’t typically talk about work here – and I’m not going to start now – but because of the horrendous week I seriously need a pick me up and OH MY GAWD thank goodness it’s Friday. Friday before a 3-day weekend no less – bonus!

So let’s look at some of the good stuff that has happened over the past 6(ish) days:

On Saturday we got our 7 year old a big boy bike and, oh my goodness, he’s actually a BIG BOY now. But he’s my baby too. Tear. He and his brother spent the weekend riding bikes together. Look at them on bikes together. Just LOOK. It was just YESTERDAY when they were babies, right?

On Sunday I went crazy and got on a cooking trend that still hasn’t let up. Every day this week I’ve made something new. It’s my goal to eventually get the recipes up here, and the pictorials as well – for the ones I actually did pictorials on – but I can’t guarantee how quickly that will happen. In the meantime here’s a few things I made:

Because I knew I had a heinous week ahead at work and with my little one starting school this week I decided to make breakfast burritos in advance.

Here’s the ingredients:

And apparently I made 12. Aren’t these pretty? 45 seconds in the microwave and I have a portable, protein-rich breakfast meal. Yum.

Monday night I made fried rice for the first time. No pictures. I was in the zone. It turned out well. I said YUM and so did the hubby.

Tuesday I made pesto for the first time ever. Seriously! And with basil from my own garden. It was so, so good. And then I cooked some chicken, baked some pizza dough and threw it all together with zucchini and tomato for a yummylicious pizza. Like whoa.

And I’ve been obsessed with fruit this week. Pineapples and strawberries are manna straight from heaven. (I didn’t really cook anything here, except some whipped cream. I just had to include the picture because of the YUM factor).

It’s a good thing I’ve munched on so much fruit because tonight I decided to make sweet potato tempura. Deep fried (oh the horror) with a Greek yogurt and garlic dip. I ate it too quickly to take pictures. Nom nom.

I’ve also managed to work-out a couple times this week so far. Last night I really wanted dessert but I put my work-out clothes on and GOT ON THE ELLIPTICAL INSTEAD. Gasp. I can hardly believe it myself. I must have been a rainbow sherbetty blur on the elliptical in my pink yoga pants, orange tank and teal blue sports bra. Stylish, I am. (Thank goodness my husband loves me).

But do you want to know the best thing I did this week? The very best?

I was a mom to my boys. I squeezed them and kissed them and tucked them in at night. I sang a lullaby to them every night before bed. I got them up in the morning and picked out their clothes and helped them get ready for school. I fed them. I cuddled them. I loved them.

I made this one giggle and smile naturally. He doesn’t do that much; he’s usually all about the cheesy fake smile when the camera comes out.

And I got this one off on his first day of 2nd grade at a new school. I was so nervous, and we had some hitches from, as my mother-in-law put it, the “ineptitude of the adults around him” (not meaning us, but school & district officials) and he, my little dude, just breezed through and he’s adjusting wonderfully.

And that, my friends, has been my week. I guess it was pretty awesome after all.

3 words: Chocolate Mug Cake

Warning: this post is for chocoholics. If you are not a chocoholic then you may want to go on your merry way until I get around to my next post about something that isn’t about chocolate. It might be a while.

A few weeks ago my husband sent me a link to a microwaveable mug cake recipe that he wanted me to make. This is unusual because, generally speaking, he doesn’t like me to bake. I mean, he likes baked goods as much as you and I (well, maybe not as much as I) but he’s trying to lose weight. I, on the other hand, am watching my weight . . . watching it stay the same.

We’re not going to talk about that right now. Moving on.

So this past Friday night the boys were asleep (or in bed, at least) and the hubby went outside to smoke a cigar (deplorable habit) and I wanted a little something. Just something dessert-like. With chocolate, of course.

IT’S NOT DESSERT UNLESS IT’S MADE WITH CHOCOLATE.

Then I remembered the mug cake recipe! Excellent idea. Microwaveable so super easy, right? I tracked down the recipe in my email inbox and quickly skimmed the ingredients list.

Whoa, what’s self-rising flour? Seriously, I have to buy a special flour? Time to do some Googling.

I was happy to find out that it’s super easy to make self-rising flour. Essentially for each cup of all-purpose flour you just need to add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and then mix together. Easy-peasy lemon squeezey. I made a cup of it and stored it in my pantry for future mug cakes.

I didn’t have Nutella (or Justin’s Nut Butter which, according to my friend Joni, is even better than Nutella and possibly better for you) so I ran to the store.

At 10:30 at night in my comfy clothes. Needless to say, MUST.HAVE.CHOCOLATE. prevailed.

No Justin’s Nut Butter in my local Albertson’s so I picked up the Nutella and some whipped cream. Normally I make whipped cream from scratch but I was trying to make things simple and quick so I got a can.

10 minutes later I was sitting on my sofa, turning on House Hunters International and eating chocolate cake out of a mug.

I was, in fact, eating this very thing:

Here’s the full recipe & instructions:
Nutella Mug Cake
4 tablespoons self rising flour
4 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons Nutella (or Justin’s Nut Butter)
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil (vegetable or canola preferably)

Combine all ingredients in a large coffee mug (the large part is IMPORANT. Think gigantor latte cup.) Whisk well with a fork until smooth. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 – 3 minutes. Time depends on microwave wattage. (Mine took 1 minute, 40 seconds). If you cook it too long it will be dry. The top should look kind of wet but if you stick a toothpick in (or a finger, like me) then it should be cake-like inside.
Like this:

I topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup & a sprinkle of cinnamon. I have a suspicion that warm, soft caramel drizzled on top of the cake and then topped with whipped cream would be freakin’ fantastic. Mmm. Let’s just pause and think about that for a minute. Mmm-hmm.

The recipe makes 1 very large serving. This is a perfect shared dessert with your honey if you are feeling all romantical. If your honey is being a butthead then DO NOT SHARE. This is serious stuff, man.

I luuuurve chocolate but I could only eat about half and then put the rest in the fridge for the hubby the next day. (Yes, the next day. Due to the previous butthead note. So on Saturday morning I told him what I had made and he bee-lined for the fridge. He ate half of it cold but I think it was even better after I warmed it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so).

It doesn’t have a real Nutella flavor that I could detect. I wonder if playing with the amount of Nutella, or changing when the Nutella is added (like after it’s all mixed up, or mid-cooking process) would provide more of that hazelnut flavor. Hmmm, if you try any variations please let me know.

Enjoy!

(I should note that neither Nutella, Justin’s Nut Butter nor Albertson’s knows me and I’m not endorsing any particular product or business. Except for chocolate. We are tight like whoa).

Food & Drink

FOOD
I have been asked for this recipe several times lately so I thought I would just share it here. It’s super easy to make, and quick, but you probably don’t keep some of these ingredients on hand. At least I don’t! But it’s worth it. 
I can’t take credit for this – I got it from my friend Jenni’s mom. 
Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder

2 whole chicken breasts
1 onion (chopped)

2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 Tbsp. of oil

Saute chicken, onion & garlic in oil until chicken is cooked through. (Do it in a large pot so you don’t have to dirty two pans!) Cube the chicken when cooked and put back in the pot.

Add:
2 cans creamed corn
2 cups half & half
2 cups monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 can diced green chiles
2 tsp. cumin (to taste)

Bring to a simmer and add:
A splash of hot sauce (to taste)
Chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)

If the soup seems thin it can be thickened with corn starch. We like to make it thick and then eat it with tortilla chips. Totally YUM. 

DRINK (of the alcohol variety)
Now, I’m not a huge drinker. Really, 3 is usually my limit and I’m such a control-freak that I tend to always opt to be the designated driver. In the past I have never been one to try shots; I just wasn’t into drinking to get drunk – and what else is the purpose of a shot?? 
Well, our good friend Brittain introduced me to a shot that I love. It’s sweet and sour and I can drink them down almost like water. (Not really, but, almost). Try this. I make 2 cups of this at a time and keep it in the fridge. You know, for emergencies. 
Chocolate Cake Shots
1/2 shot citrus vodka 
1/2 shot Frangelico hazelnut liqueur 
sugar-crusted lemon wedges

Mix equal parts vodka and Frangelico into a shot glass. Drink the shot, and follow it immediately by sucking on a sugar-coated lemon wedge.
Two of my favorite things. Enjoy!

Baking gluten free for the first time

My brother-in-law got remarried last week to a truly sweet, wonderful woman and she’ll be a real asset to my husband’s side of our family. She and I bonded right away and I look forward to many more family get-togethers with her. But she’s now providing us with a challenge we haven’t previously dealt with; she has Celiac disease, which is essentially gluten intolerance. We’ve been really lucky that we have never had to worry about any food allergies or “intolerances” in the past, but now, going forward, we’re going to have to be much more aware of what we cook and how it’s prepared to make sure it’s not contaminated with any wheat proteins.

So yesterday was their small family wedding reception and everyone was supposed to bring a dessert. I decided to make gluten-free brownies in her honor and to show that we are taking on the challenge. My cousin-in-law also decided to make something gluten-free, but I don’t know that anyone else did – Yay for us! 

I did my homework. I looked up what chocolate I could use and what double-checked every label of my ingredients to make sure it was okay – except one thing. I put my first batch together and sprayed a mini-muffin pan so that I could make brownie bites. Then I filled each cavity about 3/4 full and baked them. Then I thought, “hmm, I didn’t look at that cooking spray” and, sure enough, the label says it may contain wheat traces. Damn! I dumped the whole batch into the garbage. And, to be honest, I didn’t care too much for some of the flavoring I added so I made a second batter and changed up the recipe a little bit.

I was going to add butterscotch morsels but then I read the label and realized that the butterscotch contains barley malt. So I just added milk & semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter. (I used unsweetened Baker’s chocolate for the batter – which is safe – but the Baker’s bittersweet chocolate is made with alkali processing and that ISN’T safe). I owe a lot of my homework to Labelwatch.com, by the way. This time instead of using cooking spray I used mini-cupcake liners. I also decided to dust the brownies with powdered sugar and discovered that SOME powdered sugars can have added wheat-based fillers so it’s important to check the label of the powdered sugar you are using.

I took the brownies to the party and my new sister-in-law tried them and LOVED them. She raved about them and made sure to give some to her mom who is also gluten intolerant. Yay!

I now have gluten-free flour in my pantry for future baking endeavors, but I’m sure it’s going to be tough to always double-check what I can and can’t use in my dishes to allow her to eat the food we provide. It’s a good challenge though! So many people are gluten-intolerant now that it’s something we all need to be aware of when we entertain.

UPDATE: my new sis-in-law is now asking me for the recipe. I call that a success!